With 138 shows scheduled over a 15-month run across five continents, Justin Bieber’s marathon “Purpose World Tour” is on track to rank among the five top grossing tours of 2016. The tour’s success relies heavily on an intimate connection between artist and audience, a feat accomplished physically with aggressive out-in-the-house staging and sonically supported by a Meyer Sound LEO™ Family reinforcement system from VER Tour Sound.
Selection of the LEO Family system was a collaborative decision on the part of production manager Chris Gratton and veteran FOH engineer Ken “Pooch” Van Druten.
“Chris had used a similar Meyer system with great results on an earlier tour with Ariana Grande, and he suggested we go with it,” recalls Van Druten. “Though I had not yet toured with LEO, I had heard it with Ariana as well as Judas Priest mixed by Martin Walker, whose work I respect. I agreed, and it turned out to be the best fit for this artist on this tour. It’s giving us the sound we want consistently from show to show, and it’s ready to go in a tight time frame.”
Van Druten’s two decades of top-tier touring reflect a skilled ear for connecting artists with audiences, beginning with legendary diva Whitney Houston and continuing with acts as diverse as Eminem, System of a Down, Motley Crue and – for eight years – Linkin Park. For Justin Bieber, he says, the key is crafting a vocal sound with both impact and intimacy.
“The Meyer system really shines on the vocals, and I suspect one reason for it is that LEO and LYON are two-way boxes,” he says. “With the three-way systems you have an upper crossover point right where you want to put the meat of the vocal, and sometimes that can make it difficult to make your vocal really pop. With the Meyer system you don’t have that problem because the one crossover is below where you’re working with vocals.”
The design also accommodates creative use of console plug-ins, continues Van Druten. “People are coming to hear every subtle detail, not just in songs but in Justin’s conversations with the audience. I use compression plug-ins to keep his vocal out front, and I find it’s easier to get the sound I want when I don’t have to compensate for a crossover in the middle of where I’m working.”
Configured for 270-degree coverage of larger arenas, the Meyer Sound system comprises main front hangs of, per side, 14 LEO line array loudspeakers over four LYON™ line array loudspeakers. Intermediate side hangs are 16 LYON per side, with 12 LYON per side as outfill arrays. Bass impact is delivered by 24 1100-LFC low frequency control elements, evenly split between flown and ground-stacked. Eight LEOPARD™ line array loudspeakers are deployed singly as front fills, and loudspeaker management is entrusted to 14 Galileo® Callisto™ processors.
According to Van Druten, the flexibility of the Callisto processors in a multi-zoned, self-powered system has proven instrumental in dealing with the tour’s biggest challenge.
“This production not only has a deep thrust into the seating, but it also puts Justin – and his dancers – on a flying stage up and out in the house. So for nearly half the show, Justin has a live mic 125 feet in front of the arrays, and at times the stage automation lifts him up 50 feet into the direct field of the long throw arrays. You walk a very fine line when you attempt that, but fortunately we make it work by managing zones in Callisto with presets for level and EQ changes just for those zones that are right into his mic. This leans on the system engineer more so than most gigs, and my hat is off to Brett Stec and Chris “Cookie” Hoff who have made it work so well.”
The tour’s aggressive staging, as well as the sophisticated video and lighting systems (also supplied by VER), push the time envelope on back-to-back tour dates. “We have a total of over 140 rigging points, and that means sometimes we don’t get to hear the PA until 15 minutes before doors. We time align the system, do a little bit of EQ and then just go for it. With the LEO Family rig, it works. Some other systems out there can be finicky and would require a lot more time to get ready – time which we don’t have.”
On the front end of the system, Van Druten mixes behind a DiGiCo SD7 enabled with Waves plug-ins. The wireless system is Shure Axient, and Bieber’s microphone is equipped with a Telefunken M80 capsule.
Supporting the late 2015 album release, “Purpose World Tour” marks a resurgence of Bieber’s career and reestablishes him as a major global concert draw. At the recent American Music Awards, for example, Bieber took home the honors for favorite album, song, video and male artist.